The Houston Astros: How they got to the World Series

Go crazy, Houston. For the second time in franchise history and the first time while representing the American League, your Houston Astros are going to the World Series.

The pennant-clinching victory was achieved in Game 7 of a dramatic American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees. The Astros won the first two games at home, before losing three straight in New York. That put them on the brink of elimination, but they managed to rebound with back-to-back convincing wins at Minute Maid Park to wrap it up.

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That sets the stage now for a clash of titans. The 101-win Astros will travel to Los Angeles to meet the 104-win Dodgers in the first World Series to feature two 100-plus win teams since 1970.

The Dodgers, having wrapped up the National League Championship Series in five games, will be well rested. They’ll have Clayton Kershaw at the ready in Game 1, along with a fresh bullpen. The Astros won’t be in terrible shape thanks to a pair of off days, but it’s far from ideal.

Let’s be honest though, the Astros don’t really care about any of that. They’re four wins away from winning the franchise’s first World Series championship, and despite the Dodgers depth, they won’t be overpowered or intimidated. The Astros belong in the World Series. Now we’ll tell you how they got there.

Justin Verlander has been an invaluable addition to the Astros rotation. (AP)

The August trade for Justin Verlander

We’ve seen some big August trades before, but few have matched the impact Justin Verlander has had on Houston. That’s especially true in the postseason, where Verlander has owned the competition. In three starts and one relief appearance, Verlander has posted a sparkling 1.46 ERA while striking out 24 in 24.2 innings.

It could be easily argued that Houston wouldn’t be anywhere close to the World Series without him. That’s especially true after his season-saving outing in Game 6 of the ALCS. If the Astros win it all, this will go down as one of the best trades ever.

MLB’s best offense

Houston’s offense disappeared for a stretch during the ALCS. So it goes when you’re facing a Yankees pitching staff that was locked in for the first five games. In the end though the lineup started clicking when it mattered most, showing the relentless power and energy that made them impossible to stop during the regular season. Houston led MLB in runs scored. Then it continued crushing against Boston in the ALDS. Now they’re poised to meet the challenge of Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers in what should be a classic matchup.

Racked up 60 wins by the All-Star break

Only one team had more wins than Houston’s 60 at the All-Star break. Yes, that would be the Dodgers with 61. That sent a message that the Astros were going to do the pushing around in the AL West this season after missing the postseason in 2016. For all intents and purposes, the division was decided in June, as Houston ran away and hid from the Rangers, Mariners and Angels. All three of those teams stuck around the wild card race until the final week, but they were no match for the Astros.

AL batting champion and likely MVP Jose Altuve remains the Astros heart and soul. (AP)

Jose Altuve is the best

Few players we’ve seen can compare to Jose Altuve. The diminutive second baseman is a hitting machine, collecting at least 200 hits for the fourth straight season while winning his third batting title during that timeframe. Simply said, he’s the Astros heart and soul. As he goes, they go. That’s never been more apparent than the postseason. Altuve started it with a three-homer game in ALDS Game 1. He then capped the ALCS with homers in Game 6 and 7. His postseason average? Exactly .400. No wonder he’s the likely AL MVP.

Road Warriors

They haven’t necessarily shown this during the postseason, where they’re currently 1-4 away from Minute Maid Park. But the Astros have had the home-field advantage so far because they took care of business on the road during the regular season. Houston’s 53-28 road mark tied Cleveland for the best in MLB. Now they’ll have to find a way to steal one in LA, while protecting the home field, where they were 48-33 in the regular season and are 6-0 in the postseason.

They’ve been building to this since 2011

The Astros success didn’t come overnight. As Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan wrote, it’s been a long, slow process. They officially hit the reset button after general manager Jeff Luhnow took over in 2011, and they’ve just continued to build and build with an eye on the prize that now sits four wins away. The Astros suffered through four straight 90-loss seasons along the way, but they were worth it. They used every possible path to get here: the draft, trades, international signings, more trades, waivers claims and then the best trade yet to bring in Verlander. It’s the ultimate “I love it when a plan comes together” moment, but it could still get better.

Also see: The Los Angeles Dodgers: How they got to the World Series

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!